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.................Exorbitant Privilege

The essay-film seeks to tread a line between surrealist experiment and polemicised didactics British Film Institute on the Essay Film . Yet where does the visual essay stand in an era of omni-present collage, of propagandised media that, while undoubtedly more democratised in its production, is plagued by drastically blurred lines, which were anyway rather soft, between fact and fiction 1 Moreover, in a time when media content is less-often consumed in a spatial or temporal commons (the cinema or broadcast television), the very premise of mass-media as shared experience is all but obliterated.

Perhaps the essay film, which has historically resisted formal boundaries 3, today must breach the borders of the projection booth - into physical space and online, reflecting the life-world the viewer inhabits.
'Exorbitant Privilege' 4 asserts that homo hydrogenesis descended from one in the shadow of an imminent, instantaneous, yet unrealised, annihilation to victim and perpetrator of a more-or-less slow, actual, asphyxiative extinction. The nuclear eschaton (defined as a global apocalypse as opposed to the events of August 1945, which, for their horror, were fundamentally localised) was hypothetical and literary 6 6.1 . Its threat, horrifying and seductive, has been, after the Cold War's end, joined by a real-time experiment in terraforming - the bleak results of which come in every year with extreme weather and calving glaciers. We live as if suspended between an antediluvian present and a sweltering, parched near-future 7 .

This threat-transformation resulted from a virulent, politicised consumer capitalism, initiated in the US but quickly replicated, albeit at smaller scale, 11 11.1 11.2 . Consumption as patriotic duty in turn was rooted in an obsession with the home, a product both of conscious government policy and of anti-Communist hysteria 12 12.1 .

Houses and consumption were not necessarily a historically and geographically inevitable phenomenon, as if programmed by a benevolently neoliberal Providence. Rather, these were the product of an intentional public policy - starting in post-Depression America 14 14.1 , continuing after WWII with an alphabet soup - Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae, Freddie Mac - of ‘government sponsored enterprises’ (GSEs) with their implicit government guarantees. The twilight zone in which the GSEs operated, namely whether their were actual Federal debt identical to Treasuries or merely IOUs of massive, private financial institutions with dubious underwriting standards, would fully crystallise during the Global Financial Crisis of 2007. Political imperatives in favour of housing were visibly exemplified in 1970s with the 30-year fixed-rate repayable mortgage, arguably the ground zero of modern political economy. Such a long-dated, fixed-rate mortgage is an aberration 15 16 . More odd even is the home-owner’s right to prepay for free.

Why do we dwell upon an arcane financial instrument? Because the complexity of ascribing a value to this option contributed to a demand for technologists, a need that was fortuitously filled from the military-academic-industrial complex, then in a post-Cold War downsize. These scientists, literally rocket scientists, would use techniques such as Monte Carlo simulation 20 , originally developed to model behaviour of neutrons inside a nuclear weapon 21, to work out how a mortgage-backed-security might behave in response to the prepayment behaviour of millions of home-owners 21.1 . The vast size of the mortgage market in turn spurred in turn new markets, such as those for securitisation of auto loans and student debt. The story of how this financial hypertrophy would end is written in the post-Lehman histories. Yet it remains the case that the obsession with homeownership lay in the political imperatives of American, and to a lesser extent, Anglophone 22 , governments seeking alternatives to communism and, to a certain extent, any form of activist, progress social organisation.

The antecedents were benign enough - America was a vast country of frontiers 26 and open land, the native population of which had been cast in the popular imagination (of so many Westerns) as a barbarous lot to be exterminated or infantilised 27 28. The treatment of the American Native corresponds to a quasi-Orientalist practice of denigrating the enemy that is said, albeit somewhat due to linguistic confusion, to date back to Herodotus' Persians 24, and persists today (in relation to Iran and North Korea) as theorised in Hugh Gusterson's 'nuclear orientalism' 25. Reasons notwithstanding, the associated homestead mentality of the colonial/settler had little use for the ancient walled towns 29 , the shtetl, or the monsoon-drenched rice paddies of the East. The good American immigrant aspired to the suburbs, a frame house, a green lawn of appreciable extent, two cars of recent vintage, perhaps a proud flag, all of which semiotically presented an image of fulfilled dream. 30

Yet, as is well documented, the good house would come to represent an instrument of white flight, suburban sprawl, extreme racial segregation, and an individualised hyper-mobility, at the expense of commons 31.1 31.2 .

Thus, a nation whose foundation myth definitionally excluded the autochthonous, sought, through the suburban tract and the products that filled it and surrounded it, to establish an abode in which it was authentically at home 11.3. Yet, in 2018 when the Cold War is a memory, we must recall that this process happened against a global backdrop of annihilation, at the hands of a weapon the extreme efficacy of which all but negated its practical usability. Rather the fight of ideologies, and indeed utopias 32 , would be one of attrition, prosecuted by proxy on a global canvas. This war would be fought in three forms 33 : overtly violent 34 , covertly financial-political 35 , and through the creation of a mediated network culture 36 . After all, the American dream, as observed worldwide, was a dream lived in the aether. Images and sounds of prosperous consumption would lead the West & increasingly the East onto the sunny uplands of globalisation and capitalism. Only in the new millenium would the environmental cost of this development become fully apparent.

And it is here we must return to autochthony, but under the bitter tailings of nuclear colonialism. For nuclearity was not merely a phenomenon that gripped the declared atomic powers, with Europe as a reluctant victim-stroke-handmaiden 37 . Nor was it something that can be theorised in the neutral, distanced language of economics or Cold War studies. For homo hydrogenesis needed tools, designed by those who, in varying ways and for various reasons, had transcended or rejected notions of home, soil, blood. These tools needed to be tested, just not in ‘populated’ areas: Iowa, Wales, the Donbas, or Clermont-Ferrand. Rather it was ‘uninhabited’ and ‘unsettled’ sites: the Marshall Islands, Algeria, French Polynesia, Western Australia, Kazakhstan 38 . Correspondingly, the raw material of nuclearity, principally uranium ore, was mined and refined into yellowcake in Gabon, South Africa, Namibia, Niger, Kazakhstan again 39 . These activities, while mostly invisible to viewers in the homeland, were hardly without human cost - in immediate irradiation, long-term health, and chromosomal mutation 40 40.1. Moreover, to the extent that affected people often lived off the land and the sea, their food supplies would become more precarious 5. It is in this sense that technology, always under the control of political beings often in thrall to its potential, performed its supreme act of alienation - a life in harmony with land and sea would henceforth be replaced with a relationship to aid money, pre-packaged commodities, and ultimately, forced and economic migration. 43 .

It is worth noting that nuclear war had a certain non-discriminatory appeal - very few could, merely by virtue of location, ethnicity, or nationality, guarantee survival in a post-WWIII world 44 . In contrast, the after-effects of consumerism and environmental collapse exhibit a notable distributional feature - the earliest victims live on the low-lying islets of the southern sea. The poetics of this tragedy seem inextricably bound with the fluidity and vitality of water -- perhaps the Ister 45 45.1 , protagonist of Hölderin’s hymn, or the great Vourokasha sea of the Avestan texts 46 .


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